Raised by alcoholic parents, Hattie Kauffman’s childhood memories are filled with hunger, anxiety and middle-of-the-night moves with paper bags for luggage.With their seven children in tow, Kauffman’s parents left the Nez Perce Reservation in 1960 and headed for Seattle. Given her erratic upbringing, it may not be a surprise that Kauffman fell into alcoholism, married as a teen and was a single mother of two by age 25, but what happened next defies stereotypes. Kauffman became an Emmy award-winning national correspondent for ABC and CBS News, and the first American Indian to file a report on a network news broadcast.
“Growing up, it was what we lived. When I became a young adult, in my 20s, it dawned on me that not everybody had the same life,” says Kauffman, 58, in a phone call from her home in Seattle. “I wanted to tell these stories, but to tell the truth, I didn’t know if I was a good enough writer to tell these stories.”
She admits that’s ironic, after writing thousands of stories about other people — from presidents to astronauts to Olympians.
Kauffman’s new book, “Falling Into Place: A Memoir of Overcoming,” weaves together three themes, her childhood spent in poverty, the painful divorce from her second husband of 17 years, and her Christian conversion.
A member of the Nez Perce Tribe, Kauffman was 4 when her family moved to Seattle. They frequently returned, and she attended second and 10th grades at Kamiah. She’ll sign copies of her book Friday, Feb. 7 at the Nez Perce National Historical Park at Spalding.
Kauffman writes that her childhood prepared her for her future career: “Reporters ask who-what-where-why-how. From the time I could talk, those were my questions: Who? (is in charge of us), What? (is going on), Where? (are they), When? (will they come home), Why? (did they leave), How? (are we going to make it).”
Kauffman often speaks to American Indian groups and youth, where her story rings familiar to many. She says she finally found the time to write it after recently retiring.
“In television a woman over 50 is ancient,” she says.
One of the most painful incidents to write about was the time she got caught stealing silverware at an elite Connecticut private school that she won a scholarship to during junior high, she says.
“Of course there’s a lot you might be embarrassed about growing up, but this was my shame. I threw away this golden opportunity, and it could have been easy to leave that out and not put it in, but on the other hand, it’s there as a way we do self-sabotage, and the patterns of poverty and addiction and not being good enough,” Kauffman says.
Kauffman writes little about her career as a reporter, which began with a job as a minority reporter apprentice at an NBC affiliate in Seattle and eventually led to ABC’s “Good Morning America” in 1987 and “CBS This Morning” in 1990. She also reported for “48 Hours,” the “Early Show,” “CBS Evening News” and other programs. She attributes her rise to the fact she never said no to a story.
“There probably is something to say about that,” she says of her career. “I have been in some incredible situations. Occasionally you get to witness history unfolding. I’m very grateful.”
Overall “Falling into Place” is a tale of redemption, tracing Kauffman’s struggle to embrace Christianity. As a youth she rejects the idea of the “white man’s God” because of Christianity’s role in destroying American Indian culture. As she works to overcome alcoholism and cope with personal problems she finds sure footing in religion. She calls reactions to this part of the book from the American Indian community “surprisingly warm.”
“I anticipated sticks and stones, but on the other hand, Native American spirituality honors a creator, and so I don’t know that there has to be as much dissonance between the two.”
if you go
What: Hattie Kauffman speaking and signing her book “Falling into Place”
When: 2-3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7
Where: Visitor’s Center, Nez Perce National Historical Park at Spalding